Race And Gender
Race And Gender
Many fought for the rights and equality of African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. Fannie Lou Hamer was one of these soldiers who believed in this cause and often overlooked the gender issues that were relevant as well. She fought for the rights of all African Americans, but did not see the gender issues for women as important to the cause at that time. As a woman, she fought to better the race before the betterment of the females of the race. Hamer’s quest was the empowerment of race rather than race and gender. Only when the right to vote, hold office and equality gained, could African American women be concerned about their home, family, and work environments. This clearly shows that Hamer placed race above gender in her efforts in the Civil Rights Movement.
Many women during this time-period placed this cause above their home life. Thousands of women left their homes and banded together to fight for the rights of the race, not just the men, like Martin Luther King Jr., who are noted in history. “Women of all classes got involved and this illustrates how much women’s roles have been overlooked by history.” These women left their homes, and in some cases, family, to fight for the rights of the race above gender, and, ultimately, got little to no credit for their efforts. These women were, in fact, discouraged in documenting their stories. “Women were discouraged from taking up their pens at the same time they lost much of the rationale for female leadership that had been generated during the previous era.” Even in the cases that wanted to, these women could only pass down their stories by mouth successfully. As they lost the right and ability to tell their stories, the female leadership they had fought for during the suffrage movement began to dissolve as the race became more important than gender. Hamer did not see this as a problem for she believed that only when the rights of all blacks were gained, could the rights of the genders be dealt with effectively. The women of the Civil Rights Movement played key roles in the success of it, but got little to know credit because of the masculinized view of women’s roles and how they pertained to leadership. These women left their homes and families and very few get credit for the sacrifices made because of the view of their roles and the discouragement of the recording of their efforts.
Hamer fought the “grass roots” battle, meaning she fought for the lower classes rights above before the upper. Very few were willing to fight this battle and Hamer felt that the entire race, not just the ones who could afford nice clothes, should be given rights. Even as she fought this class battle within the race battle, she felt that the gender rights could wait. AS she fought for the rights of her race, she denied herself many of her rights as a woman.
Combined, these roles represented a curious sort of status for Hamer the wife, farm worker, and political activist. They created a duality of being that, on one hand, allowed her much leverage and influence but, on the other hand, often left her angry, unfulfilled, wanting and confused.
Hamer felt that the rights of the race should come first, as did many other women. Unfortunately this left an internal battle that she alone could fight, a battle of ingrained values and duties and the fight in which she believed. Hamer, ultimately, lost this battle when the Civil Rights Movement accomplished its goal in the Civil Rights Act in 1968, and she went on to fight other battles, but disappeared from the public eye and is unknown to many today because she was a female leader and as such, did not have many of her action recorded in written history.
Many women fought for the rights of African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement. Fannie Lou Hamer was one such woman, though much of her battling is unknown, due to the lack of written history of women’s roles in the movement. Hamer’s quest was the empowerment of race rather than race and gender. She helped to achieve the right to vote and hold office for blacks, but did not win her own internal battle of being a mother and political activist, and all that implies. African American women would fight for the equality they helped their men to gain for the next forty years, and still fight that battle today. Hamer helped to achieve rights for her race, but by ignoring the gender rights, a battle the women would fight continues today.
Lee, Chana Kai. For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Smith, Thaddeus. Class Notes.
White, Deborah Gray. Too Heavy a Load. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999.